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Heart conditions taking deadly toll on our young people, warns charity

By John Mulgrew

A young person in Northern Ireland dies from an undiagnosed heart condition each month, new research has shown.

According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), many people are unaware that they are at risk before their sudden death.

Undetected heart conditions can be deadly and devastate families, often by taking away loved ones without warning, it says.

Northern Ireland's heart research charity estimates that around 17,500 people in Northern Ireland are living with a faulty gene which puts them at high risk of a heart attack at a young age or even sudden death.

Hilary Niblock, from Lisburn, lost her son Kris on June 18, 2014.

That was just days before his 21st birthday.

Kris, who was the youngest in the family of three children, loved cars and was outside their home working on a friend's vehicle when he collapsed.

"I had picked Kris up from his job in Tesco.

"It was a lovely evening so we were getting ready to have a barbecue and Kris was out working on his friend's car," Ms Niblock said.

"His friend came running in and said Kris was lying at the side of the car. We thought maybe he'd been electrocuted. The ambulance came and rushed him to Lagan Valley Hospital.

"When he got there they must have worked on him for two to three hours, but there was nothing more they could do.

"Nothing can prepare you hearing that. I just kept thinking 'this can't be happening'."

The Niblock family were all tested for a heart condition, but later discovered Kris's death was due to an electrical issue in his heart.

"I know now there was nothing we could have done, but you're tortured by thoughts of what if?

"What if we had known? Kris was my youngest and was the wee boy I had always wanted. I always felt he was someone special."

"Everyone who knew him talks about his big smile. He was so quiet and unassuming and would have done anything for anyone.

"I don't want any family to go through what we've gone through. More research is needed so no family has to suffer the loss of their child so unexpectedly."

Karen McCammon, specialist heart nurse with BHF in Northern Ireland, said: "The reality is that there are thousands of people across Northern Ireland who are unaware that they could be at risk of sudden death, because from the outside they are perfectly healthy.

"There are people out there who kiss their loved ones goodnight or goodbye in the morning and don't wake up or don't come home.

"Thanks to the public's kind support, BHF-funded researchers have made major discoveries in these frightening heart conditions, but we urgently need to fund more research to better understand these heart conditions, make more discoveries, develop new treatments and save more lives."

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